Good Year Or Bad, Now Is The Time To Invest In Customer Experience

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Chris Wallace is the President of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in internal brand alignment.

There’s no question that 2020 has been a challenging year. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a “bad” year for all businesses. 

While many segments have suffered revenue declines through the pandemic, others (i.e., home fitness, outdoor recreation, home remodeling, to name a few) are seeing booming sales and popularity.

For segments seeing record sales, there are real risks that come with having so much success during this period of rapid change. Here’s an example: I recently had a conversation with someone in the major appliances business. They indicated that their August sales were up 60% over the same month the previous year. Sixty! Six-zero! For an industry that would be happy with 6% and ecstatic with 16%, a 60% increase in sales seems unthinkable. It is hard to imagine that August 2021 will be a repeat of that success.

While the current challenge for these surging industries might be fulfilling all their orders, the demand is not likely to last. These businesses must recognize that while they are currently busier than ever, there are dramatic shifts in consumer habits that will impact them in the future. Consumer expectations of a smooth and safe customer experience (CX) are increasing at a rapid pace. No matter what your performance has been this year, your future success will depend upon your ability and willingness to adapt now.

Don’t Fall Into the “Success Trap”

My company does a lot of work in the home improvement and building materials segments. Most companies in these sectors are having banner years.

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Short-term customer demand spikes are driving their sales. People are home more and they are investing in their houses. The demand is so high for these products that the scrutiny on the buying experience is relatively low. While most businesses have made short-term adjustments to be Covid-friendly, their success is not the result of CX improvements. An executive told me recently, “The customer experience in our industry hasn’t improved in 25 years.”

Within their success lies a significant risk. If all their energy gets spent to keep up with short-term demand, that could hinder their ability to see the bigger picture. Brands need to invest time and money to examine how they are serving customers today — whether through digital channels or in stores — and determine if their experience is good enough in this new environment.

The home improvement segment is just one example. The lesson applies to all industries that have experienced rapid growth in 2020. While you are fulfilling orders, others are developing new, innovative ways to serve customers that will set them up for long-term success.

Where to Focus

In between taking and fulfilling orders, it can be tough to know where to spend your time and money. The good news is, strong performance means there is money to reinvest in your business. From the industries we have observed and the trends we are seeing, here are three areas that can help ensure your business is prepared to serve the modern customer well after the pandemic:

• Reimagine your customer journey. CX strategy has changed drastically during the pandemic. Companies of all sizes in all industries are finding better ways to serve their customers. While the pandemic has accelerated advancements around things like curbside pickups, online ordering and virtual video consultations, those things won’t go away. They are easier and save time, in addition to being safer. Your sales in the future will depend upon the experience you deliver. Examine each step along the customer’s journey and compare your processes to those in other industries. It won’t be enough to be on par with your competition; you’ll need to set a new standard.

• Upgrade your digital systems. Digital tools are necessary to support the evolving CX. The highest priority needs to be finding ways to make the journey for the customer easier at every step of the way. This could mean upgrading the chat feature on your website to providing dealers or retail partners with access to better tools. Digital does not mean shiny objects; it means simpler, more efficient operations. 

• Engage your sales team. Sales reps are slow to adapt. It is that simple. It usually happens out of necessity. If your reps are having killer years, they are likely to miss some of the trends they will need to be successful in the future. Look at what struggling industries are doing to keep their reps sharp — things like honing remote/virtual selling skills, hosting roundtable discussions with clients and other pandemic-era innovations. Once again, many of those trends are likely to continue, so be careful not to let sales reps get lulled into thinking they are doing everything right.

While many businesses are struggling to survive, others are struggling to keep up with an avalanche of business. While that might seem like a high-class challenge in this environment, it does present some real risks. To ensure that the success is not short-lived, smart businesses will take an honest look at the shifts in consumer behavior happening today and invest in the advancements that will enable them to deliver the new experience customers will undoubtedly demand.


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